Mass Media Shooting Sports

by John M. Buol Jr.

Can shooting get mass media coverage? Can shooting generate spectator interest? Despite the positive efforts of MSNBC and Time magazine, the NRA says “no.”

Prior to the 2010 Winter Olympics, Time (Time.com) ran a series of “How They Train” segments interviewing athletes competing in the Games. Tim Burke (TimBurke.us) of the US Biathlon team was interviewed by reporter Sean Gregory in a feature that discussed the sport of biathlon, including a basic run down of the marksmanship and rifles used. The interview included Gregory explaining the course of fire and attempting to shoot some of it. It was a positive, non-political look at one facet of our shooting sports. Footage is available at Burke’s and Time’s websites.

This interview was more than a formality of complete coverage on Gregory’s part. Burke is a major contender! For the first time in Biathlon history, an American shooter is leading on the global stage. After a string of wins prior to the Olympics, Burke earned the yellow bib, signifying he had become the current leader in the Biathlon World Cup. If you’ve been following any of the shooting disciplines on the International level then you’re well aware that America fares poorly. As a whole, gun owners in this country aren’t supportive of organized shooting and don’t participate.

This has been a trend for decades and shouldn’t be a surprise. Consider that the Biathlon in 2002 was televised during MSNBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics. In fact, MSNBC had an actual shooter (Josh Thompson) do their coverage and featured Magdalena Forsberg in an “Athlete’s Voice” segment. The Today Show featured a segment with anchorman Matt Lauer receiving instruction on Biathlon, learning to both ski and shoot, and stating that the sport deserves more attention in the States. This wasn’t much of a stretch because Biathlon is the most watched televised winter sport in Europe and has been for years.

It does seem to surprise American gun owners, though, and it makes me wonder what the folks at Fairfax are thinking. Perusing the NRA’s multitude of web sites in the days leading to the Olympics I could find no mention of this shooting sport or of Burke. During the 2002 games, there was no apparent Biathlon coverage on any NRA site either. In fact, the “Top Sports Stories of the Day” reported on their website during that time featured such venues as Figure Skating and NCCA basketball. Why should we care? Biathlon is a shooting sport that has earned and is earning positive coverage nationally in the “anti-gun” media. The NRA should appear at least as supportive of Biathlon as MSNBC and Time.

Lesson learned: Mass media will show shooting in a positive light if the story is big enough, presented properly and enough people show they care about it. What the gun industry needs to work on is creating more shooting events of “Olympic proportions” backed by enough enthusiastic participants and fans.

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